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I use the following formats for dialogues:

  • dialogue

  • dialogue - describing action (if any)

  • dialogue - describing action (if any) - more dialogue (if any)

There is a chapter in my book that is mainly a conversation. During that chapter, after - let's say - the 10 first paragraphs, it starts to look like a monologue since the second chars starts to tell a history to the first one.

In that scope, the normal dialogue won't work. I'm not sure how to format what the second character is saying since it will be spread out over more than one paragraph. How do I deal with such long dialogues?

It seems nonsensical to drop the paragraphs just because of the dialogue. It also doesn't seem right to use something like this:

  • dialogue

more dialogue of the same char in another paragraph without the dash

Or:

  • dialogue

  • more dialogue of the same char in another paragraph with the dash

My solution was to insert unnecessary things from the first character just to help the formatting, but that's not what I really want.

  • dialogue

  • something unnecessary from the other character

  • more dialogue of the other character

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2  
Also see Kate Sherwood's answer to What is a beat?, and answers by Lauren Ipsum and One Monkey to the same question. –  jwpat7 May 6 '13 at 16:14
2  
Just a note on punctuation: if one person is speaking (“monologuing”) more than one paragraph of text at a time, you open each paragraph with opening double quote but close only the last paragraph (with ). –  SF. May 7 '13 at 7:30
    
Normally I start a dialogue paragraph with a dash. Wouldn't it be strange to change the rules in the middle of the text? Besides, I reserve double quote to thoughts, what might be confusing. Another thing, I'm talking about, let's say, ten fifteen paragraphs. I think to start with a " and end the last one with another " will end up with the Groo effect. –  Psicofrenia May 7 '13 at 10:49
    
@Psicofrenia Is that the standard punctuation rule for where you are?(dashes for dialogue and quotes for thoughts) –  Lauren Ipsum May 7 '13 at 16:01
    
Afaik, it is. It's quite rare to see books with quotes to delimit dialogues, but they exist. In any case, I use latex commands to delimit dialogues so, I don't actually write any dash or quotes. I just write \dialogue{my text} and Latex inserts any delimiters I want to. It's easier to change styles that way. –  Psicofrenia May 7 '13 at 21:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

One thing I would think about is: Are those things the other person says really unnecessary? They actually might give the reader valuable background information about what the other person already knows, and what that person considers normal (even though the reader may not) or extraordinatry (although it seems obvious to the reader).

Compare the following examples. First the monologue text:

"OK, I'll tell you the story. As you probably know, there once were two kingdoms fighting against each other, Knitor and Daria. But what you don't know is that both kingdoms had top secret magical forces. Most people think that magic powers were only discovered later under King Freed, but that's wrong. It's just that both kingdoms managed to successfully keep their knowledge secret. Indeed, it was so secret that even the king of Knitor didn't know that Daria knew about magic, nor the other way round. And so they were heading to a disaster ..."

Then one example with reactions:

"OK, I'll tell you the story. As you probably know, there once were two kingdoms fighting against each other, Knitor and Daria."

"Yes."

"But what you don't know is that both kingdoms had top secret magical forces."

"Magical forces? I can't believe that!"

"Most people think that magic powers were only discovered later under King Freed, but that's wrong. It's just that both kingdoms managed to successfully keep their knowledge secret."

"Well, kingdoms have always been masters of keeping things secret."

"Indeed, it was so secret that even the king of Knitor didn't know that Daria knew about magic, nor the other way round. And so they were heading to a disaster ..."

Now another example with completely different reactions:

"OK, I'll tell you the story. As you probably know, there once were two kingdoms fighting against each other, Knitor and Daria."

"Well, I've heard tales about it."

"But what you don't know is that both kingdoms had top secret magical forces."

"Magical forces back then? I can't believe that!"

"Most people think that magic powers were only discovered later under King Freed, but that's wrong. It's just that both kingdoms managed to successfully keep their knowledge secret."

"Such things never keep secret for long. Are you serious?"

"Indeed, it was so secret that even the king of Knitor didn't know that Daria knew about magic, nor the other way round. And so they were heading to a disaster ..."

Note that I didn't change one bit of the original monologue, and the other person doesn't actually add information about its subject. Yet there's still extra information.

In the first expanded dialogue you learn that the war is common knowledge, that magic is obviously so common that the other person cannot imagine that it was ever not known, and that a kingdom keeping a perfect secret is something completely normal.

In the second expanded dialogue you learn instead that the war is already passing into the reign of tales and legends, that it is a well known fact that magical powers were discovered later, and that a kingdom keeping such secrets well is something extraordinary.

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Indeed, you're right. It changes a little bit the original scope I had in mind but, it help to make the dialogue richer. –  Psicofrenia May 14 '13 at 6:49

You can break up long stretches of dialogue with:

  • Stage business (describing the person moving around, handling things, getting up and walking, sighing, laughing, eating, etc.)
  • Reaction shots from the other person
  • Bits of narrative describing what someone is thinking, either the speaker watching the listener or the listener reacting to the speaker

It's actually okay to have "something unnecessary." That's the stage business. It also helps make the scene easier to visualize.

As an exercise, watch a (scripted!) TV show or a movie. Watch for scenes with two people talking. Turn off the sound or turn it low and really watch. It's not just two people sitting stiffly and yammering at one another like the Sunday morning talk shows. There's movement. There are reactions. People get up and pace. They slouch. They fiddle with the china. These are the things you can intersperse in long paragraphs of text so they aren't boring walls of blah blah blah.

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1  
Really good advice. Thanks –  Psicofrenia May 6 '13 at 14:14

One addition to Lauren's list: If the history is interesting enough on its own, make the telling of the history a scene. End one scene with the storyteller launching into the story. Then put a scene break. Then put the story as told by the storyteller.

This works better if you've already established a pattern of switching viewpoints from one scene to the next, but you can sometimes get away with it in (otherwise) single viewpoint stories if the transitions into and out of the story are clear enough.

Alas, I can't think of an example that you might know, though I'm sure there are numerous ones. Here is a (somewhat clunky) example from one of my works in progress:

Page leaned forward, placed his forearms on his knees, and began to tell the story.

#

In 1961 I was sent to Vietnam as what they called a "military advisor."

I think the switch from third to first person helps mark the transition.

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In the first paragraph provide a short summery of all the events. a good way to start it would be "The past have been eventful to say the least..."

In the second paragraph provide clear facts and add in a few points of how the character is feeling but infer them.

Next say how the character is feeling and what action they will take on it.

Finally summarise everything you have said.

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This feels Like advice I got in junior high, suitable for a first work. –  hildred Nov 30 '13 at 17:48

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